We are not discussing crocodiles here, but given that even the most cursory, SafeSearch-on Googling of krokodil yields some of the most vile images you will ever see (DON’T DO IT!!!!), this stock photo of a crocodile will more than suffice. The flesh-eating intravenous drug does, in fact, get its name from the animal, as it causes a scalelike gangrene similar to the hide of the aquatic beast before progressing into abscesses and gangrene.
However, while crocodiles are kind of cute in photos, krokodil is decidedly NOT. It first rose to popularity in Russia (“krokodil” is Russian for “crocodile”) at least a decade ago due to heroin shortage, and while its main ingredient is a painkiller called desomorphine, it isn’t this component that causes the “rotting from the inside-out” effect of the drug that produces a high “three times stronger than heroin” — rather, the deadly side effects arise as a result of street chemists using codeine tablets mixed with substances like gasoline, paint thinner, or lighter fluid.
The first reported instances of krokodil in the United States appeared in Arizona a couple weeks ago, and it since seems to have made its way to the Chicago metro area. Dr. Abhin Singla, the director of addiction services and medical director for The Promises of Recovery, a treatment facility in Joliet, Illinois, recalls walking through the intensive care unit of Presence St. Joseph Medical Center and overhearing a nurse speaking about heroin. That’s when he noticed “the distinctive odor of rotting flesh” and knew that krokodil had arrived to his facility.
The three patients currently being treated by Dr. Singla have three things in common: they are all females, between the ages of 18 and 25, and come from middle-class backgrounds in the suburban Joliet area. Scarier still, only one of Singla’s patients was aware that she had been using krokodil. The other two came to the doctor for help in getting off heroin only to learn what they’d been using wasn’t heroin at all.
Until word of krokodil spreads throughout the heroin-using community, Dr. Singla says, it’s likely many others will be affected by the drug. He advises that, while difficult, parents should show their children the disturbing photos of krokodil users, because the reality of the drug “will scare them more than any lecture.”
[Photo of crocodile via Shutterstock]